Friday, June 17, 2011

The Tree of Knowledge: summary

Title page of The Tree of Knowledge by Pio Baroja, translated by Aubrey F. G. Bell (Alfred A. Knopf, 1928)

Posts on the novel:

(Part 1) The nose of a cockatoo and more years than the oldest of parrots

(Parts 2 – 3) Charity seemed to have fled from the world

(Part 4) Interlude

(Parts 5 – 7) Nature has resources which are unknown to us

In The Tree of Knowledge Baroja presents different philosophical ways of looking at the world. The main character, Andrés Hurtado, complicates matters further with a skewed perception of the reality around him. Andrés can see things shrewdly but his desire to remain detached from the world he sees as deeply flawed proves to be an ineffectual way to live. His disillusionment with the Spain he inhabits leads him to adopt a rationalist approach to life. Yet this approach constantly fails him—while some presumptions turn out to be correct, many do not. Society is flawed but not to the extent he views it. By withdrawing completely from the world, he fails to recognize the problem that resides within him until the very end of the book.

It may be reading too much into the novel to say that it seems to trace the development of Baroja, from the beliefs of Andrés to those of his uncle Iturrioz. The central part follows a discussion between the two men as Andrés argues for the primacy of science (knowledge). His uncle, however, promotes a practical approach for life. He does not say to abandon the search for knowledge but to recognize its limits. Andrés ignores this advice, practically and symbolically throughout most of the book. This being Baroja, things do not progress linearly but take on many incongruities and present several paradoxes.

As I said in the previous post, I found it very enjoyable and highly recommend it if you can find it. I'd also love to hear from those that are familiar with Baroja and their impression of him and his work...

3 comments:

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Baloo_Mendieta said...

Here in Spain, We had to read that in highschool.

It's a great book and it really influenced me.

I highly recommend u "La Busca"

Nice blog BTW!

Dwight said...

Thanks so much. Regarding La Busca, I wrote about it here. I quite enjoyed discovering Baroja!